100 ways to use a VLE – #28 Classroom Study Task

September 10, 2010

There are various ways to set a task for a lesson in a classroom. You can do it verbally, which means that most people will forget what they need to do by the time you have stopped talking! You can do it on the whiteboard, but this could mean wiping off valuable notes that others need. You could do it through Powerpoint (or similar) but this does mean that the amount of information you can display is limited. You could always give out a printed handout with the task on, this does mean using paper and restricts you to mostly black and white and if you have the budget colour; of course no media such as video or sound.

Using the VLE to “host” the task allows the learner to have access to the task itself as well as any resources (such as video, images, text or audio) needed to complete the activity.

You can also use the VLE itself to be used to submit the responses or answers to the activity. You could use the assignment module or even a discussion forum.

It wouldn’t be necessary for some activities for all learners to have access to a computer, one laptop per group for example. Though if it is an individual task then one computer per learner may make sense. The task could also be completed by remote learners or those on placement or in the workplace.

Learners can then always at a later date refer back to the task if they need to, for example to help them complete an assignment or for revision purposes.

Of course also by placing the task on the VLE it makes it much easier to use the same task the following year or making a copy for another group.

100 ways to use a VLE – #12 Keeping a teaching journal

September 3, 2010

We never have enough time.

Teaching is a challenging profession and speaking to many teachers and lecturers one of the key issues that comes up again and again is time, or more specifically the lack of time.

I have talked about time before on this blog back in 2007. There are many productivity tips out there on the web, but one way to save time is to stop reinventing the wheel. Once you have been teaching for a while it has to be said that you will be teaching stuff you have been teaching before.

Even when qualifications change, or we have a change to syllabus, most of what we teach doesn’t change.

Before I did all this e-learning stuff I was a business studies teacher. When I started working in FE, my students were doing the BTEC National in Business Studies, we then moved to the AGNVQ in Business before moving back to (a different it has to be said) BTEC National in Business. Through those changes, though the qualification changed and the syllabuses were different, the topics and subjects were basically the same with marginal differences. So despite changes, much of what I taught was the same from year to year.

For example, demand and supply analysis is pretty much the same now as it was then and ten years previous to that!

What made life easier for me was keeping a teaching journal of what I was teaching, what worked well and what didn’t. This was a practice I picked up undertaking my PGCE and FAETC. So where is that journal now? Probably thrown away! It was in a lever arch file I left at City of Bristol College when I left there in 2000. Someone who could use that content now won’t be able to access it. Nor can I use it now either.

By using the VLE as a store for my teaching journal, I could have kept copies of my notes, resources, reflections on practice all in one place. I could have referred back to it as and when I needed to. If I wanted to I could much more easily share that content with other practitioners in my teaching department. They could add their own commentary and notes if they used my stuff. If I ever moved on, the valuable content would still be there on the VLE and of course as it was in a digital format I could take a copy with me.

There are other online places to store a teaching journal, a blog for example, however the VLE with its range of functions can allow the teaching journal to be much more than just a reflective blog. You could use image galleries, voting, forums, etc… as part of the journal.

Maintaining a teaching journal makes a lot of sense for teachers, there are many places to keep that journal, on the VLE can be a possibility that shouldn’t be ignored.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #92 Making choices

August 27, 2010

Sometimes you need learners to make a choice. A choice about which module they want to do. A choice about which area they want to study for a project. A choice about where they want to go on a field trip.

We often ask learners to make a choice. Traditionally we have probably used paper to make and collate choices.

The VLE can be used to both offer the learners a choice, but also to record their choices.

Quick and easy you can create a series of choices.

Once learners have made their choices you have quick and easy access to the results.

100 ways to use a VLE – #10 Gradebook

August 20, 2010

Keeping track of student assessment can be an administrative problem for some practitioners. Who has done what and what they got needs to be recorded so that the practitioner has a fair idea of the progress learners are making on the programme.

Obviously this can be done on paper, on a spreadsheet or a piece of dedicated gradebook software.

You can also use the VLE as a gradebook. Used in conjunction with an assignment submission and assessment system it will allow the practitioner to know easily who has submitted a piece of work, what grade they got, revisit the feedback given and check the status of any referral work.

This data can then be exported and imported into any proprietary gradebook system the institution may have.

Another advantage of using the VLE is that the information is very easily accessible by the learner, so that they can see their grades.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #98 Embedding RSS feeds into the VLE

August 13, 2010

Keeping the content on the VLE current, topical and updated can be a real challenge for many practitioners. It can be both time consuming and if you are new to adding regular additional content to the VLE it can be easily forgotten that you said to yourself that you would regularly add content.

Of course for virtually all subjects there are loads of other people out there creating new, current and topical content. On blogs and news sites, lots of relevant and interesting content is being created.

The key is to ensure that the learners are made aware of that content quickly and easily.

You can of course copy and paste links and content into the VLE, but this has to be done manually and sometimes you are busy or just plain forget…

So that’s where RSS comes in.

What’s RSS?

Really Simple Syndication!

What’s Really Simple Syndication?

I knew you might ask me that!

The simple explanation is that RSS allows for content to be easily used and shared (syndicated) onto other web sites automatically. As that content is updated, the RSS ensures that the updated content is made available on the other web sites.

When content sites (like the BBC) update their content, they update their RSS feed. This feed can then be “added” to the VLE ensuring that when the content (and the RSS feed) is updated, the content on the VLE is automatically updated.

So by adding RSS feeds into the VLE, you can easily add new and exciting content into the VLE that update automatically without either the practitioners or learners needing to do anything.

I should point out that a few learners may want to subscribe to the RSS feed direct using a browser or feed reader. They may for example have a feed reader on their iPad or other mobile device.

So how do you add an RSS Feed into the VLE?

Well different VLEs do it in different ways. On Moodle the easiest way is via the Remote RSS Feeds Block.

This then allows you to add an RSS feed (like the feed from this blog) into the VLE.

The next question is I know, how do you know where the RSS feed is?

Well the address for the feeds will look something like this.


As you can see it’s not just news and blogs that have RSS feeds, you can also find RSS feeds for services like Screenr, Flickr and Audioboo.

So when you visit a page with an RSS feed on most modern browsers they will have an RSS icon.

Click the RSS icon to see the feed. Another way of describing an RSS feed is as content without the formatting.

In this example the feed is in the address bar.

Copy that into the Add a news feed URL field on the VLE.

This will allow you to embed the RSS feed into the VLE.

What’s nice about the Moodle Embed RSS block is that you can add multiple feeds into a single block.

Adding an RSS feed to the VLE can be for many practitioners quite a complex and challenging task, mainly as it can be difficult for many of them to understand what RSS is and means. However once you get past that hurdle it is then a quick and easy way to add current and topical content to your course on the VLE automatically.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #77 Learner Voice

August 6, 2010

One of the things that the VLE can be used for is to capture the learner voice.

During inspection, Ofsted will look for evidence that providers have a learner involvement strategy and can show how learners are influencing the improvement of provision.


It provides an ideal location for learners to involve themselves in providing feedback and commentary on the provision in the college.

There are various tools that can be used for this, there could be an open discussion forum that allows learners to discuss the college and the provision. Though care must be taken in order for this open forum not to be abused and if moderation does take place that it is open and fair.

A closed discussion forum can also be useful in allowing evidence of discussion and feedback in one place. Within this kind of forum the only people who can see the discussion would be the learner and the college.

A further method of using the VLE would be to use something like the Feedback block on Moodle that allows users of the VLE to provide either a poll of some kind or more detailed feedback on the provision in the college.

The VLE will never be the only way in which colleges can capture the learner voice, however as one mechanism among many it can be useful tool.

100 ways to use a VLE – #72 Streaming live video

July 30, 2010

It is getting easier and easier these days to stream live video over the web.

Using services such as Qik, Ustream and other free services (and paid services) you can capture an event live and stream it over the internet.

These services allow you to stream video to lots of people even if all you have is a simple internet connection, 3G, wifi or similar. The way they work is, you stream your video to their server, and then they serve the video to the multiple clients who want to watch.

So where does the VLE come into this?

Well, you can provide the URL of the page that has the streaming video on, but that does rely on learners either remembering the URL or having access to it or having written it down. The problem with live streaming is that it is very time sensitive and really don’t want learners struggling to find the URL and then find the live event is over.

A lot of these streaming services do allow you to embed the stream output into a webpage and so you could embed the coding into the VLE.

Most of the free services are supported by advertising, you can use other services such as Bitgravity that offer a paid for streaming service.

You can also obviously embed the video stream from any institutional streaming servers.

You can then use the scheduling or calendaring functions of the VLE to let the learners know when the live video event is happening.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #15 Keeping a learning journal

July 23, 2010

Learning can often be seen as a journey, moving from a to b. Though learners (and practitioners) often focus on the destination, the journey is actually the important part.

When it comes to look back on that journey, either for revision, assessment, moving onto a new journey (qualification), reflection on progress; it can be challenging to see where you have been, remember what you did, you saw, you heard, you challenged, you learnt.

Learners will often have a journal of some kind, usually a folder with notes, handouts, assignments. However a paper based journal requires paper! By placing the journal online, ie on the VLE, the learner suddenly has much more choice when it comes to recording their learning. They can type in text, record an audio file or upload a video. They can put in links to webpages, websites, different parts of the VLE, e-resources, e-Books.

The choice allows learners to record their learning at a time and place to suit them. If they want to quickly type something up they can, if they want to quickly record something using a mobile phone, they can and upload later.

Going online or using a VLE doesn’t stop learners handwriting their reflective journal, very easy these days to use a TabletPC to write, or more simply, write it out on paper, photograph it and upload. Digital cameras and most cameraphones are now more than adequate to photograph text and for it to be readable on a screen.

Learners can also tag their learning entries, making them easier to sort and search later. They won’t need to flick through a large folder they can just enter search terms and find stuff quickly.

So why put it on the VLE?

Well learning can be an individual process, but sometimes learners may want to share their thoughts, and read the thoughts of others.

Tutors may want to be included in the process to allow them to better judge progress been made on the course. Using a VLE allows these users to engage with the learning process.

Using the VLE also allows collaboration between users, so the journey need no longer be a solitary or individual affair it can be a journey with peers.

Another option is to use third party tools, such as wikis or blogs, and embed them into the VLE, this has the advantage of allowing learners to maintain their learning journal once they have left the college. The journal doesn’t need to be constrained by the size of a folder and so can contain a lot of content if required.

It is an expectation that learners will record their learning journey, by using an online journal on the VLE not only will their journal be richer in terms of content, but can be shared, searched and there is a lot less chance of it getting lost!

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100 ways to use a VLE – #79 Lesson feedback

July 16, 2010

In the long and distant past, getting feedback on learners was something that just didn’t happen… the only real feedback that any practitioner got was through assessment. Though assessment is useful to get feedback on whether learners have learnt anything, it doesn’t help very much in getting feedback from learners if the process of learning is working. Would learners who get a C grade have got a B grade if the teaching had been more engaging? Would the learners who dropped out (failed) been a success if the teaching was more suited to their needs?

Getting feedback is important part of any learning process to ensure future success.

In the recent past, feedback has often been obtained through end of year or course surveys, or slightly better end of term surveys. Problem with any paper based survey is that someone has to crunch the results. That can take time, so you probably do it rarely.

A VLE can be used quite easily to host a feedback survey. Many feedback tools can be replicated so that they can be copied (or refreshed) for each lesson. This means it can not only be easy to setup, but quick and easy to copy for each lesson.

The feedback can be on how the learners felt about the lesson or what they learnt. This can then be used by the practitioner to improve future lessons or to change activities and assessments. Aggregated feedback from all the lessons and across the curriculum area can also be used to feed into any self-assessment process.

Moodle has a Feedback module that allows a series of questions to be posed to learners. This will collate the responses that can then be exported to Excel if required. Another module on Moodle that can be used is EasyVoter for a more immediate response in the lesson itself. Though of course all the learners need to have a computer to take advantage of this feature. The advantage of the Feedback module is that it can be done later at home, in the Library, or in a coffee shop.

There are other uses for EasyVoter, Feedback or other similar tools within the VLE, but lesson feedback is a useful way of using the VLE to improve the quality of the learner experience.

100 ways to use a VLE – #57 Linking to a podcast

July 9, 2010

Podcasts are an effective mechanism to support learning. Due to the audio format, learners can download and listen to them on an mp3 player (such as the iPod) as they walk to college, or catch the bus. Likewise mp3 files can be burnt to CD and a learner could listen to them in their car, or on their home music system. Though portable, learners can also access podcasts direct through a computer and listen to them via the computer speakers (or headphones).

Teaching is an oral tradition, we have been “listening” to lectures and conversations for years; podcasting allows learners to listen when, how and where they want to. The other key advantage is that podcasts can be listened to more than once, enabling a learning objective to be reinforced or for revision purposes.

If you have a search of the iTunes store there are thousands of Podcasts on many different subjects.

There are also “podcasts” available through iTunes U.

There are also podcasts available from other sources that aren’t on the iTunes store.

You can link to a series of podcasts on the VLE quite easily by just adding a link to the podcast homepage. From there the learner can just click on the link for any of the episodes available. This implies that all the podcasts are easily available from that homepage, this is not always the case.

What is useful now is that many of the iTunes podcast pages will open in the browser, so the learner won’t need to install iTunes to see and play the podcasts.

You could link direct to an episode of the podcast, by linking direct to the audio file. Though this is in theory “okay” it is considered poor internet etiquette as it is deep linking. Most podcasts should have a webpage for each episode; the e-Learning Stuff Podcast does for example and you could link to that page. This method is most useful when you want to link to a specific episode of a podcast.

Another more efficient way is to embed the podcast RSS feed direct into the VLE. This way, as episodes are added, they are automatically added to the VLE page, and the learners can click on new episodes as and when they are published.

One problem you may come across is if you link to a podcast like the BBC podcasts, is that previous episodes are “removed” from the web. This generally isn’t a problem for casual listening, can be an issue if the podcast is considered to be a core part of the course. You would think you could just download the podcast from the original source and upload to the VLE, wouldn’t you? Well life is never that simple. Though you can download the podcast, keep it, play it back in a classroom for the purposes of instruction; there is a problem with some podcasts if you upload it to the VLE, as this can be considered to be “re-broadcasting” or distribution which would be in breach of copyright. For BBC podcasts of radio programmes, the solution would be to record the BBC Radio broadcast, and then with an ERA+ Licence you would be able to then allow learners to access the recording through the VLE.

Many podcasts are licensed under a Creative Commons licence, these generally can be uploaded to the VLE for re-distribution.

Linking to podcasts through the VLE is one more way in which you can use the VLE to enhance and enrich learning.

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